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Arabisation has pushed South Asian Muslims away from Sufi heritage

Arabisation has pushed South Asian Muslims away from Sufi heritage

LAHORE: The promotion of Saudi religious ideology and the Arabisation of Sub-Continental Islam is pushing Muslims away from the diversity and peaceful co-existence enshrined in their Sufi heritage, Sciences Po professor Christopher Jafferlot said on Sunday.

He was speaking at a panel during the concluding day of the Heritage Now festival.

He said the Sufi heritage of Pakistan has remained under threat because of Arabisation which gained momentum during General Zia-ul-Haq’s dictatorship.

The historian said there was a long history of Sufis’ work for promotion of peaceful co-existence in the Indian society. Referring to the Mughal era, Jafferlot said most of Mughal rulers had revered saints and opposed the more orthodox Muslims who considered Sufism to be polytheism. He said Sufis brought together people from different religious and ethnic backgrounds to exist in peace and harmony. This facilitated emergence of a composite culture that valued co-existence. “Sufism defined the way of life of most people living under the Mughal rule until 1857,” he said.

The historian held that Sufism was an essential part of Allama Muhammad Iqbal’s philosophy that was also inspired by themes from Shia Muslim history. This was evident in references to Karbala in Iqbal’s work, he said.

To highlight the novelty of the Arabisation process dating back to General Zia’s rule, Jafferlot referred to the Khilafat Movement and the transnational politics of Indian Muslims in the aftermath of the First World War. He said Indian Muslim intellectuals were inclined towards the Turkish Ottoman Empire, rather than the Saudis of Hijaz. “Muslims of the Subcontinent who participated in the Khilafat Movement were inclined towards the Ottoman model of accepting diversity,” he said.

Other panellists were Amen Jaffer, a sociologist at Lahore University of Management Sciences; Nur-Sobers Khan from the British Library, UK; Ross Burns from Macquarie University, Australia; and veteran lawyer Raza Kazim.

Burns’ talk was about group identity and how it developed through civilisations. He discussed Muslim emperors Nuruddin and Saladin who waged wars against the Fatimids because of apparent religious differences. These wars shaped the course of history in Muslim territories, he said.

Raza Kazim spoke about globalisation of culture and diverse culture practises. He stressed the role of intellectuals in defining and redefining cultures. He went so far as saying that the progress of a civilisation and its position in the historical timeline could be understood by looking at the intellectual apparatus of that society. He said modern science was the core component of the intellectual apparatus of the 21st century and it had contributed to the culture of freedom and free thought.

Kazim said that diversity required respect for local cultures as well as the cultures of the past and the present, while uniformity stressed only common and shared values.

“Religion is not just about beliefs but also about understanding one another. Different religions were products of different circumstances at different times in the history of the world,” he said. He urged the audience to think about their culture and the direction they wanted it to move in because their future was dependent on that direction.

Another speaker gave a review of The British Library and its volumes of books on South Asia, courtesy of the Colonial Deposit.

The concluding day of Heritage Now festival attracted a sizeable audience at sessions aiming at exploring the country’s cultural heritage.

Published in Daily Times, October 23rd 2017.